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Apples sans honey?

Honeybees are mysterious creatures.  I remember sitting in freshman biology watching my rapt professor demonstrate the “waggle dance” – a buzzing rhumba that foraging bees use to communicate the location of nearby food sources to other hive members.  It embarrassed … Read More

By / August 13, 2007

Honeybees are mysterious creatures.  I remember sitting in freshman biology watching my rapt professor demonstrate the “waggle dance” – a buzzing rhumba that foraging bees use to communicate the location of nearby food sources to other hive members.  It embarrassed me to watch this grown man wiggle his hips as he shuffled a crude figure eight at the front of the room.  Still, I was blown away at the thought that this odd display was, at some deep level, responsible for the golden bear-shaped bottle on my kitchen table. 

So I’ve been distressed to follow along with the newest sci-fi like reality to hit the media: the honeybees are dying, or rather, leaving.  Consider this vignette from a recent New York Times article by Alexi Barrionuevo:

David Bradshaw has endured countless stings during his life as a beekeeper, but he got the shock of his career when he opened his boxes last month and found half of his 100 million bees missing. In 24 states throughout the country, beekeepers have gone through similar shocks as their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate…

The newly-minted term for this phenomenon is colony collapse disorder, and – aside from early (and discredited) accusations that cell phone waves are the cause of the bees’ distress – nobody really knows exactly why it’s happening.

But it’s happening, and it threatens to cause serious havoc to our dinner plates because bees are responsible for a lot more than honey.  Susan Kuchinskas recently wrote:

Most of the imported fruit and vegetable species commonly thought of as quintessentially Californian – almonds, grapes, plums, cucumbers, cantaloupe, asparagus – need the help of bees to wed male pollen to female pistil. Without bees, there would be no apples, no cherries, no tomatoes, no zucchini.

We share a collective, romanticized notion that our nation’s dairy cows meander through green pastures and that bees are wild creatures free to buzz from flower to flower.  The reality, however, is that the majority of the bees that pollinate America’s crops are actually cogs in the industrial food wheel. 

Douglass Whynott documented in his book, Following the Bloom, how – like migratory farm workers – commercialized beehives are literally trucked from farm-to-farm, to pollinate whatever is in season.  These traveling bees forage only corn one season and only or oranges or almonds the next.  Their hives are cramped together in the back of trucks for their cross-country journeys.  They are fed high-fructose corn syrup to compensate for their unbalanced diets, which Kuchinskas comments is the same gooey liquid that contributes to the country’s obesity problem. 

In short, the bees don’t get no respect – is it any wonder why they've gone on strike?

This Wednesday marks the month of Elul – a period of internal reflection that leads up to Rosh Hashana.  I could suggest that we all dip our apples in maple syrup instead of honey – but sadly, the unusually warm temperatures across the Northeast and Canada have seriously stunted maple production as well.  One of the primary focuses of this month is tshuva the act of “returning” to our best selves.  This year, as we head into Elul, go support your local small-scale honey farmer, http://www.localharvest.org/store/bee-prods.jsp because nobody needs the benefits of tshuva (return) more than the bees.      


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